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Hoy and Greemsay, Orkney

Historical Description

HOY and GRÆMSAY, a parish, in the county of Orkney, 2½ miles (S.) from Stromness; containing 547 inhabitants, of whom 214 are in the small island of Græmsay. This parish is chiefly situated in the island of Hoy, the principal of the South Orkney isles. It is bounded on the north by the Sound of Hoy, which separates it from the parish of Stromness, in the main land; on the east, by the bay of Scalpa, in which is the small island of Græmsay; on the south and south-east, by the parish of Walls; and on the west, by the Atlantic Ocean. The district of Hoy, or that part of the parish which is in the isle of Hoy, is about nine miles in extreme length, and six miles in breadth. Its surface is boldly elevated, forming the highest ground in the island, and the lands are chiefly marked by three lofty hills, ranged in triangular form, of which that to the north-east rises from a broad base to a height of 1200 feet above the level of the sea. The soil along the shore is a rich loam, and in other parts peat, alternated with clay. The greater portion of the district is covered with heath, affording pasture to many flocks of sheep which roam at large: in the husbandry of what is arable very little improvement has been made. For want of timber, the scenery has a dreary aspect, relieved however in some parts by small valleys, intersecting the hills, and watered by numerous rivulets, whose banks are ornamented with a few shrubs and wild-flowers. The hills abound with Alpine plants; and there are several deep glens, in which the sound of the voice, or the report of a musket, is re-echoed by repeated reverberations. A rock on the brink of a valley, called the Dwarfie-stone, has been excavated into three distinct apartments; in one of these is something resembling a bed, and between this and a smaller apartment is a recess apparently intended as a fire-place, with a hole cut in the roof to emit the smoke. The whole mass is of sandstone, about thirty-two feet in length, seventeen feet in breadth, and seven feet and a half in height. Veins of iron and lead ore have been discovered; and the latter ore, on analysis, was found to contain a considerable proportion of silver: some grains of gold have also been met with. The island of Græmsay, which is separated from the rest of the parish by a sound about a mile in breadth, is a beautiful spot, a mile and a half in length and a mile broad. Its surface is level, and covered with verdure affording luxuriant pasturage; the soil is fertile, and that portion of the land which is arable produces rich crops of grain: the substratum throughout is clay-slate, which is wrought for roofing. Cod, ling, and other fish are found in abundance off the coast of the parish; and seven boats belonging to the parish are regularly employed in the herring-fishery, during the season.

Ecclesiastically Hoy and Græmsay are within the limits of the presbytery of Cairston, synod of Orkney. The minister's stipend is £150, to which are added £8. 6. 8. for communion elements; with a manse, and a glebe valued at £8 per annum: patron, the Earl of Zetland. There are two churches, both in good repair, the church of Hoy built towards the close of the last century, and that of Græmsay thoroughly repaired about the year 1810; they contain each 182 sittings. Divine service is performed every third Sunday at Græmsay, and on the two other Sundays at Hoy. The parochial school is well attended; the master has a salary of £26, with a house and garden, and the fees are about £2 per annum. A school in Græmsay is supported by the Society for Propagating Christian Knowledge. Among the precipices on the coast is a massive lofty insulated pillar which, from a fancied resemblance, is called the "Old Man of Hoy"; it is conspicuously seen from the Caithness coast.

Transcribed from A Topographical Dictionary of Scotland, 1851 by Samuel Lewis